Dharma Raj Shakya and Uttam Shakya: Building Giants

Art Issue 100 Jul, 2010
Text by Eliz Manandhar / Photo: ECS Media

The art of crafting stones to perfection lies in the genes of these two hard-working stone sculptors. At a very tender age, these brothers, along with another two, were already into making captivating sculptures. Uttam recalls going to Pokhara for a project as a teenager and being teased for his inability to speak proper Nepali (his mother tongue being Newari). But he had the last laugh when they saw his work, which left them awestruck and speechless.

The brothers were highly inspired by their father, Nunem Raj Shakya, who himself was a professor at the Lalitkala Campus and a well-renowned stone sculptor. The brothers run a shop, ‘Araniko Wood Carving’, located in Patan with its factory located at the Patan Industrial Estate. Uttam spoke about how stone carving has evolved over the years. In his father’s days, the art was delicate and one required long hours to complete the sculptures. Fragile structures would break off at places, thus ruining the entire sculpture. Then, glues came along and solved this problem. Nowadays, they have superior imported cutting machines and diamond tools.

Uttam recalls an incident from his visit to South Korea on a project. He had noticed innumerous differences in the art and the working methods of the two countries. Whereas his brothers, colleagues and he had been working manually and laboriously, the foreigners had state-of-the-art machines, gloves, glasses and masks for protection. They laughed at Uttam and his colleagues, but later marveled at the sight of the finished products. Each learned from the other and Uttam started working with machines back home. These machines proved to be more effective, convenient and less time-consuming, which meant more sculptures could be churned out in lesser time.

His most daunting task was when he had to prepare a sculpture of the late king Birendra in a matter of 8-9 days. He worked very hard for this and, while initially satisfied with the end product, he later spotted several flaws in it. He was even commissioned by the Hyatt Regency once for stone sculptures to be made in the traditional old-fashioned manner without the use of any machines, but he refused due to its impracticality. But he still does make traditional sculptures at times for enthusiasts (who pay a lot for them). But he believes in the preservation of certain rules of ancient carving even when using modern machines. Uttam is currently working on major projects and is also planning on joining the Masters program in Fine Arts (introduced for the first time in the country at the Tribhuwan University) soon.

Uttam’s elder brother, Dharma Raj Shakya, is a name to be reckoned with when it comes to the profession. There are very few like him who are so attached and dedicated to their work. He is the mastermind behind many legendary sculptures, which include the single-stone 19” by 15” Budhanilkantha Narayan at Banepa, the two lions at the entrance to Freak Street, the 7.5-feet Rinpoche Padma Sambav at Nagarjun Hill, the replica of the world famous statue of the Nativity Buddha at Jayabageshwori amongst tons of others.

Dharma recalls a cherished memory of Chinese people who had built a statue of the legendary Araniko and graced it with his face! This made news in both China and Nepal. Also, the renowned Japanese newspaper, Yamuri Shinbun, published a half-page article about him and his works during the Japanese Stone Trade Fair of 2002. He regards this as the proudest moment of his life. When around the same time, the then Prime Minister of Nepal, Girija Prasad Koirala, had visited Japan for political purposes, the latter had received not more than three lines in the newspaper! This knowledge made Dharma even happier and prouder, and encouraged him further to keep enhancing his skills as a stone sculptor. Dharma currently holds a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts, a Masters degree in Culture Studies and a PGD in Buddhism Studies. Besides stone sculpturing, he has a deep interest in painting and confesses that he tries experimenting with the two at times, which is indeed a very interesting idea.

At the moment, the brothers are busy building a massive15-feet Ganesha statue that is going to be Nepal’s biggest statue ever! Enough said!